Have You Been Betrayed by Your Blogger?

break(great for any design)This discussion we’ve been having about whether bloggers should get paid for their work is fascinating, and I think it’s pretty great that the whole MwP community here has been so level-headed and thoughtful about it.

There are lots of other people out there getting seriously up in arms about it, though. They’re saying bloggers who ask for payment are betraying their readers, compromising their ethics, and generally being all-around jerks. It’s as though they believed our very moral compass is broken, and that bloggers simply don’t understand how to be in a secure and loving relationship with their readers. To hear them tell it, bloggers who don’t give it away have turned positively abusive.

They are really quite unfriendly about it. Dear me. Such uncouth behavior. I think perhaps it’s time we discussed what is and is not appropriate in blogger-reader relationships, don’t you? Yes, I rather thought so myself.

How Relationships Work

When you’re a tiny little kid and you don’t have any friends yet, the grown-ups around you explain what is and is not friendly behavior. “Friends share with each other.” “Friends play nicely together.” “Friends don’t set each other’s hair on fire OH GOD GET THE BURN OINTMENT!”

Like that. Most of it is totally harmless, and most of it held true as you became an adult and had more complicated relationships. Other people explained what was and was not acceptable behavior for romantic relationships, work relationships, and familial relationships (though everyone mostly ignored the part where you were supposed to be nice to your parents).

What’s more, if you encountered someone who didn’t behave the way you were told they should behave, you decided right away that this person shouldn’t be your friend (or boy/girlfriend, or colleague) anymore.

This is all fairly standard stuff. A lot of you are reading along here thinking, “And? What’s wrong with that?”

Ah, you poor naïve little soul. Everything is wrong with that.

Confusing Action and Intention

While other people were explaining to us how relationships worked, they also explained why they worked that way. The reason they did this is that your formative years are a big time for the “Why?” question. When they told you friends don’t hit, your first reaction was probably not, “Okay, then I won’t hit.”

Your first reaction was probably, “Why?”

And they told you something that would make you stop doing it. “Because mean people hit. Because no one will want to play with you if you hit them. Because hitting isn’t nice.”

They gave you a reason. Forever, in your mind, those two were linked: the action and the reason.

Now, there are lots of other reasons people hit people. Everyone has seen a good man’s man comedy or drama in which the main characters whale the heck out of each other. And it isn’t because they’re mean or because they don’t want to play baseball with each other. It’s because they love each other, man.

Professional fighters fight because they like it. They really, really like it. They enjoy the feeling of winning and getting beat around and beating the other guy worse. They like the glory and the big shiny belts they get to wear. That’s why they hit.

You swatted the dog last week because he did something bad. Not to be mean to him, but so he would pay attention.

Now, most of the time, your initial response is correct. Hitting is usually an indication that the hitter is trying to be mean to the hittee. It is a pretty logical assumption.

But it’s not the only possible reason. Hitting does not equal meanness. Hitting may indicate meanness, but they are not one and the same.

How the #$!!* Does This Apply to Blogging?

My word, what a foul mouth. My mother always told me that people who cussed were ill-bred and not to socialize with them. She also told me that if I see a man I’m dating talking to another woman, he is clearly cheating on me.

Oh, and she told me that if a blogger starts to charge for their content, he’s a greedy, money-grubbing Scrooge.

No, wait. That wasn’t my mother. That was everyone on the internet. Silly me. I always get them confused.

Somewhere along the way, the conventional wisdom decided that any blogger who deemed his advice worthy of payment was contemptible. It’s not true. In fact, it’s ridiculous to assume such a thing. I’m sure there are bloggers out there charging for their content who ARE shameless money-grubbers, but that is by no means the rule.

It’s a little like this. Let’s say I am dating a man, and he is talking to another woman, just like my Mama warned me. Now, it’s possible that my man is cheating on me with this woman, and I’m sure there are men who would do such a thing.

It is also entirely possible that they’re having a nice platonic friendly chat about the Mars landing. If my man is normally a good guy, why would I assume he has bad intentions?

The same applies for a blogger. If this blogger has always pulled out every trick in the book to get money for things totally not worth the price, then it is safe to assume the worst and that he is probably out to scam you.

But if this blogger has behaved very well and has given you great advice for years and years, why would you assume he has the worst of intentions and has suddenly become like that money-grubber scammer?

No One Made You a Deal

The other part of the argument made in the comments of the Blogging Sweatshop post that gets me is that bloggers are betraying their readers by starting to charge for some of their content.

Let’s talk about that word betrayal for a moment.

Betrayal is the breaking or violation of a presumptive social contract, trust, or confidence, says Wikipedia. That basically means you were trusted to do something – keep a secret, deliver a soldier across the border, fulfill a promise – and then you did not do it.

If someone could kindly point out to me where on the web bloggers promised their readers that all content would always be free, I would be much obliged.

This assumption is rather like the one made of that poor gentleman up there, talking blithely away to some other woman and getting into serious hot water with his girlfriend for doing so.

“How could you betray me like that?” she says, and stomps off. Meanwhile, our guy is looking all bewildered, because he never promised his girlfriend he wouldn’t utter a word to another girl so long as he lived. He had no idea that was part of the deal.

Expecting someone to fulfill a promise that you were never actually given by that person is not betrayal.

It’s delusional.

No one made you a deal. If a blogger wants to change the rules of the game, he or she has every right to do so. It’s certainly courteous to inform readers it’ll happen, and of course if the reader doesn’t want to play by those rules, then that reader doesn’t have to.

Readers are free to accept or deny the terms bloggers offer them.

They cannot tell bloggers what to do, though. They certainly can’t tell bloggers that they’re all betraying, backstabbing bastards for deciding to charge for their content. And they cannot confuse the action of bloggers asking for fair payment in exchange for sound advice with the conclusion that those same bloggers are being complete and utter dicks.

Well, okay, they can. But they look pretty silly when they do.

Post by Taylor

Taylor Lindstrom (fondly known as Tei) is a twenty-something copywriter and journalist from Boulder, CO. She’s the team’s rogue woman who wowed us until our desire for her talents exceeded our desire for a good ol’ boys club. She loves the color green, micro-point Uniball pens, and medieval weaponry.

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  1. Thanks for not charging to read this!
    .-= Oren Pardes´s last blog ..Are you insane or just crazy (enough to succeed)? =-.

  2. Interesting read, as a blogger myself I can see both sides of the fence. I understand the desire to make a little extra cash from all the hard work that goes into a blog, but on the flip side no one made us go into this business we got into it willingly and built our reader base w/o charging. So I could see where readers might suddenly feel slighted if we decided to change the terms.

    I can say I’ve never seen an blogs that do charge, I do know of bloggers that charge fee’s for posts but not a specific blog. As a blog reader and an internet junky should any of my fav. blogs start charging I’d simply find another source. One of the lovely aspects of the internet there is always a choice and more than enough alternatives to choose from!
    .-= RichardM´s last blog ..Intel’s Core i3 Shows Up On Retail Sites =-.

  3. Why, James, I didn’t know your mother was that concerned about the habits of the men you date!

    For my two cents, I wouldn’t be likely to pay for any of the blogs I follow — not because they don’t give great advice and info, but because none of them are spot-on exactly what I need. I give them time and attention because I do learn things that I can make valuable for my situation, but I wouldn’t pay (for instance) for advice on being a professional blogger when I have no ambitions in that direction. And yet, the writing advice is still good for other things — just not targeted enough at me to pay for.

    So, would I feel betrayed? No. But would I continue to give most bloggers my loyalty, time, and attention when they’re suddenly asking for money as well? Also no.
    .-= Amy Crook´s last blog ..Decorated! =-.

  4. LOL Amy, I thought that too! Had to read the sentence twice. Then I realised the post was written by Tei and James forgot to change the author again… ;-)

    Men… what can you do?
    .-= Melinda | WAHM Biz Builder´s last blog ..A rant on Ethics in Business, or rather, the lack thereof. =-.

  5. I noticed the confusing fact about James dating men too but I am more interested in what these posts about charging for content will lead up to.

    Are Men With Pens building a foundation for charging for (parts of) their content or is it just a discussion with no underlying agenda?
    .-= Bengt´s last blog ..Over 11,000 free eBooks at The Book Depository =-.

  6. @Amy/Mel/Bengt – I avow that yes, my mother is concerned about my dating habits, and definitely in regards to men, I’m sure.

    *coughs and shuffles off to change the post author to TAYLOR… *

  7. I don’t think it is about betrayal at all. Any blogger is free to do whatever they want on their blog. If bloggers can charge for their blog posts, kudos to them!

    I think the real debate is opposite of what you are saying. Some bloggers feel they are entitled to payment regardless of the quality of their content. Just because bloggers want to get paid, doesn’t mean that readers owe them any favors.

    If you have quality content and the marketing prowess to promote it, then by all means charge. Readers vote with their dollars. Provide something valuable and customers will always be there. If it is not valuable, don’t give up your day job.

    The big problem in the Free debate is that what is deemed valuable keeps rising. Bloggers need to deliver increasingly higher quality content to be able to earn money.

    I am with Amy here, I wouldn’t pay for most of the blogs I read because they don’t consistently deliver the exact content I want to read. I quickly skim more than 90% of what makes it to my inbox.
    .-= John Bardos´s last blog ..Interview with World Traveler, Robert Fitzsimmons =-.

  8. I would have to say it is a choice. Depending on what your blog is about, business is business. I for one do not blog to make money but to socially interact with people and build my reputation. I wrote a book and just went live on the market. This is my dream and I am living it. I do not want people to pay to read my inspirations on my blog but I would like them to purchase my book, Big difference. Thanks for your information interesting read.
    .-= Cathy´s last blog ..REJECTION: Reality or Vitality? =-.

  9. Ok, well at least I know I’m not the only one who was a little worried about James’….dating life.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    I remember when I began blogging in 2005, Darren Rowse was beginning to tell people they could make money off this blogging thing and the people weren’t having it. Bloggers who use advertising were money-grubbing sell outs. What happened to blogging for the love and passion?

    Here’s the thing…Passion isn’t going to pay the rent. Not unless you’re sleeping with the landlord and that’s still a longshot. My blog is my passion, but it’s also my full time job. Like any job I want to climb to the top and keep raising the level of pay. I don’t think it’s betraying anyone as much as it’s taking things to a new level. It’ll probably separate the dabblers and nay sayers fro the hardcore community members.

    Paying for content is a new concept so it’s going to get mixed reactions. People are going to call names and point fingers for a while and there will be a few scapegoats but eventually it’s going to happen.

  10. Our views agree Taylor. Thanks!
    .-= poch´s last blog ..Egypt Wants Rosetta Stone Returned =-.

  11. Mary E. Ulrich says:

    Thanks Taylor, nice followup to the sweatshop post.

    I think Deb is right, blogs are evolving, consumers ideas and values are evolving.

    The seeds of the future are being planted today. Someone mentioned “bottled water” and paying to watch television (cable). Consumers swear and protest and claim they will never use their money for such foolishness… and then in a couple years they are watching ESPN while drinking their designer water. Experts tell us we learn in spirals, NOT in straight lines. It takes us time to change our minds and our paradigms.

    Who knows maybe in 20 years the little blogs will all be gobbled up and there will be some giant Wal-Mart-Sam’s-Club-corporate blog that has either bought out or bullied all the little guys into submission.

  12. Thanks Mary and Deb for your commments… I totally agree… what I found also interesting this week is when the New York Times published an article saying how Newspaper publishers have found a method to scale down free content and start charging readers… If publishing free content is not working for them and they have to rethink the situation… why would bloggers not rethink their methods of publishing as well.

    In addition, Newsday appears poised to break from the newspaper pack with a plan by parent Cablevision Systems Corp. to end free content on the paper’s Website.

    The Guardian explains their stategy very well:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/may/12/new-york-times-charge-content

    O’Reilly TOC also provided in 2008 (this how long this discussion has been going) some insight… How Do Publishers and Authors Get Paid in a “Free” World?
    http://toc.oreilly.com/2008/04/how-do-publishers-and-authors.html
    .-= Yosie Saint-Cyr´s last blog ..Workplace or soap opera? (Part 1) =-.

  13. Mary E. Ulrich says:

    Just found this:

    Blog Author revisits list of 100 Big Lawfirm blogs and a year later 73 are dead or dying.

    http://www.geeklawblog.com/2009/12/list-of-73-dead-or-dying-biglaw-blogs.html

  14. @Mary – Oh god yes. Have you ever BEEN to a law blog? Have you ever read one? If there’s one group of people that could use some help in “how to make a great blog”….

  15. Love the topic! I’ve long since given up wrt angsting about when I charge for content or not. I remember when I was starting my own membership site – one person wrote to me and complained about my ‘audacity’ for charging for my knowledge.

    Go figure.

    Passion is great at night but sure doesn’t pay the bills. :)
    .-= Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach´s last blog ..Today’s Make Money Tip – Take advantage of 75% HUGE discounts for killer affiliate/blog/Wordpress tools =-.

  16. @james – They call them “blawgs” not law blogs, which should be enough of an idicator of why they didn’t work out.

    And how come comment love always gets an error with me?

  17. Just amazed by the number of people that see this from the side of the consumer.

    Sure, not every blog is worth paying for, but if you are consuming it then you obviously enjoy it in part. The fact that people would rather get something for free than pay for something they already count on is mind boggling to me.

    I suppose the issue is not how to charge for content, but how to attract readers that are willing to become customers in some form or fashion.
    .-= Nathan Hangen´s last blog ..What if Atlas Shrugged? =-.

  18. Everyone knows that businesses need to make money to, um, stay in business, but it doesn’t seem to stop some from taking price increases personally. People get worked up and resort to name-calling when their cup of coffee goes up a nickle. Rational discussion may not work when bloggers start to charge for their content.

    The cost of everything else in our lives is going up and up, but we expect bloggers to sacrifice hours every week or every day to provide us content for free? If the blog is marketing or just for fun, sure. But if it is providing a service, then the blogger should have the freedom to charge for that service.

    We don’t call photographers, artists, or other writers hacks when they charge for their works. Shouldn’t bloggers have the same right?

    Paid subscriptions would also let writers be writers instead of the affiliate marketers and AdSense gurus they have to be today.

  19. The bottom line here is that paid content is fine for a small minority of people. To give you an example – I’m a petrol head (I love cars) and I read several car related blogs.

    I’m in the (guessing here) 5% category of readers who would pay a reasonable amount for additional content. So everyone gets the basic road test of a new model for free, but as a premium paying member, I get to go further and get the nitty gritty details about the engine design, some extra photos, maybe some video footage of the test.

    The mistake is in assuming everyone will be prepared to pay to read a blog – the vast majority will do what other commenters have said, and simply move on. But if you are prepared to continue to give free content to those who are interested and charge for those who want more – then go for it!

  20. @Matthew – There’s a point I never thought of. Various types of payment models for bloggers could indeed get rid of all that Adsense and affiliate stuff and shoddy banner advertising and whatnot.

    You would just blog. For people who actually wanted to read your work. You wouldn’t have to monetize your blog. Or work on passive income projects. Or anything like that.

    Damn. That’s kind of amazing if you think of all the domino effects involved. I have to go have coffee and ponder this.

  21. This is really interesting because I think it is something that his a huge dilemma. As a blogger I guess I’ve never really given much though to how much free stuff I get to read every day. I actually am not crazy about the idea of somebody charging for their day to day content. But if we’re talking ebooks, podcasts, things that provide value beyond what’s already there, then by all means charge a premium for it.

  22. Pay for the straight content? No. Pay for the blogging course, or the forum, or the e-book that puts 50 posts about social media in one place, with some bonus content? Yes.

    Going back to Darren Rowse, his blog is free. However, if you want to join his new (gated) forum, that will cost a few dollars a month.

    If you want all of his 31 days to better blogging posts in one place (as an e-book), that’s a few dollars more.

    People pay for the extra content he added and the convenience of having all the posts in one place.

    People don’t want to pay for the music or the words, but they do want the souvenirs, the deluxe edition, the signed copy – the happy feeling from remembering a great concert, owning something most people don’t have, (that certain je ne sais quois).
    .-= Jodi Kaplan´s last blog ..How to Safely Manage a Marketing Crisis =-.

  23. How many of you that claim blog content should be free but would pay for ebooks actually have purchsed ebooks from some of your favorite bloggers? I would guess the ratio would be smaller than let on.
    .-= Nathan Hangen´s last blog ..What if Atlas Shrugged? =-.

  24. I have! I’ve purchased ebooks and I’ve joined a paid forum. I also purchased a book in order to get into a forum.

  25. Karri Flatla says:

    Nick Cernis of Putting Things Off put this one out there a while ago and it’s totally relevant http://putthingsoff.com/articles/the-end-of-free-content/

    As always, we have to ask ourselves as bloggers WHY we’re blogging. At that point, the politics sort of go away and you have to make some tough decisions, especially if you already have an established blog.

    Just sayin’

    :)
    .-= Karri Flatla´s last blog ..Article Marketing: How to Make a L.O.V.E. Connection With Every Article You Write =-.

  26. I just read a post on Evergreens (courtesy of CopyBlogger andJames). I would pay for that! Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I tend to agree with Amy. Wordsmithing is an art form. I will pay for what I like. No like…no buy. Pure free enterprise system.
    .-= ReseachNut´s last blog ..Getting Started With Student Loans =-.

  27. Quite simply, well said…. even with the cussing.
    .-= Pamela Wilson´s last blog ..So you want to write like Bryce Courtenay? =-.

  28. As I said on a previous post, I am in favour of paying for subscribed content. I like the model of having people pay for premium content because they can sample the free content and if helpful to their business, they can choose to subscribe.

  29. My mom said that only the naught kids get spanked. So I decided to turn up the naughty. She was right.

    I agree with this post though. There has been this weird ass notion that “blogging” = “free” and this needs to be smashed over the head with a sledgehammer.
    .-= FitJerk’s Fitness Blog´s last blog ..Optimizing The Mind-Muscle Connection For Superior Results =-.

  30. It seems to me to be obvious that if you want something done reliably and regularly someone is going to be paying for it.
    The question is, is how many blogs are good enough to pay for?
    I won’t be charging for my blog, but I have a well-paying job and the blog contributes to my professional reputation.
    .-= smuhlberger´s last blog ..The Onion throws down the gauntlet to real historians =-.

  31. I wouldn’t pay to read most blogs, but I have put money in online tip jars (up to $30) for blogs I really enjoy that I read often. If I’m getting real value from a blog (or other type of website) I’m willing to chip in, but I have to know what I’m getting first, and a “pay to see” structure would block me from learning which blogs were worth it.

  32. This give me the best of you is an internet developed phenomena that is now rearing it ugly head. It is far more reaching than blogging, people shopping, online have come to expect amazing value….for nada! When Zappos started selling shoes offering free shipping and free shoe return was the only way to entice customers to buy their shoes. Great ideal , however once the genie is out the bottle it is hell hard to get her back in, in the free notion world of internet parlance it may be impossible.

    This has carried over to every aspect of the internet and this not a bad thing!
    You are going to have to be smarter than the average bear, have content that blows the others away. But bigger than that, from my cyber perch what see is many bloggers have not decided what their content is worth.

    Until that magical , mythical, majestic moment happens it is going to be hard to sell the notion that this content is worth plunking down the credit card to read. You must be convinced first before you can convince others.
    .-= Glendon Cameron´s last blog ..How I got $5000.00 for a $150 Unit – Don’t hate the playa, hate the Game! =-.

  33. Thanks for letting me read and leave a comment for free! Good topic.
    .-= Alison Kerr´s last blog ..Fun With Sticks – Build a Shelter =-.

  34. I think this is super duper interesting. Mostly because of the use of the word “betrayal”. Betrayal usually involves having an established amount of trust. Meaning that in regards to blogging, you have been reading said blogger on a regular basis and in turn trusting what they say. Having them turn around later and charge you, well, don’t you think they deserve it? Hopefully you haven’t been wasting your time reading the blog of a bad writer who is also a greedy greedy pig. Also, I feel the need to add that this has never happened to me.
    .-= Marian Schembari´s last blog ..Should We Lay Off By Seniority? =-.

  35. Many people who aren’t in the publishing industry have a skewed view of the worth of writing based on format. If it’s a book they get it. If it’s a magazine they accept it. If it’s a blog they believed it should be free now and always. Bloggers started out low on the totem pole and it’s going to take them time to rise in public opinion of worth.

  36. Genuine Chris Johnson says:

    Woah. No. No. No. Anyone–and I mean anyone–that begrudges someone else’s nickles is acting cowardly. Period. You charge what you’re worth. You guest post if you want, and you can take eyeballs and convert ‘em or you can take money and go in that direction. Seriously, people, bitching about what someone else can make is moronic.
    .-= Genuine Chris Johnson´s last blog ..By: Thesis Blog Custom Design — GenuineChris.com =-.

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